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Coronavirus Victims: Yiddish Folk Singer Alby Kass

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALE BRIDER")

ALBY KASS: (Singing in Yiddish).

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

That voice you're hearing belonged to Yiddish folk singer Alby Kass.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALE BRIDER")

A KASS: (Singing in Yiddish).

A KASS: For years, he lent his vocals to the Jubilee Klezmer Ensemble in Northern California. Kass died in March at the age of 89, one of more than 2,000 Californians lost to COVID-19.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Alby Kass' love for Yiddish music began as a kid in the Bronx. He often told audiences at his shows...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

A KASS: We're going to start with those Yiddish songs that I started with when I was a young child with a mother who loved to sing and didn't actually teach me these songs, just sang them and I sang with her. (Singing in Yiddish).

CHANG: At 18, Kass joined the Air Force and left New York for California. He went on to teach sixth grade for 20 years and ran a vacation resort along the Russian River in California.

SHAPIRO: Alby and his wife, Wallie, founded a Jewish community group there and a choir. They were active in community theater. They played Tevye and Golde in several productions of "Fiddler On The Roof."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "FIDDLER ON THE ROOF")

A KASS: (As Tevye, singing) If I were a rich man, daidle deedle daidle daidle daidle deedle daidle dumb (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARK PEABODY: I had never performed with a person who had so much joy in his heart and was able to share it with the people around him.

SHAPIRO: Mark Peabody plays acoustic bass for the Jubilee Klezmer Ensemble and left this note on a virtual memorial page.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PEABODY: His sense of joy was so honest, pure and powerful that it reminds me of the joy a young child feels when they are truly happy.

CHANG: Alby's son, Larry, says as an actor, his dad notoriously strayed from the script.

LARRY KASS: Everyone on the cast would always ask him, hey, Alby, are you off book yet? And his response every rehearsal was almost.

CHANG: And Alby sometimes got carried away introducing a song. The accordion player would start coming in with her chords.

L KASS: As if to say, Alby, that's enough. They've heard enough the of story of the song. They want to hear you sing it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

A KASS: A song called (speaking Yiddish) which means, oh, it's good. (Singing in Yiddish).

L KASS: What I'm going to miss the most I think is just that pure father-son relationship. I was lucky to grow up knowing that my brother and I were unquestionably beloved by him.

SHAPIRO: The family couldn't visit Alby in his final days, so they made a playlist with his favorite songs and recordings of their own.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STELLA: Hi, Poppa (ph). This is Stella (ph). And I'll be playing one of your favorite songs on the recorder.

CHANG: The songs got loaded onto an old cellphone, and nurses hooked it up to a speaker before he died.

SHAPIRO: Larry Kass says his father's gone, but he can still hear his dad's voice, rich, expressive and full of life.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

A KASS: (Singing in Yiddish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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